A Special Tea to Raise Money for Breast Cancer
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It was a tea party. If you didn’t know it by the pretty pots and cups and the table groaning with sweets, you could tell by the hats.
Especially Sylvia Tolan’s hat, a floppy, sparkly J. Lo hat from Kohls, decorated with. . .a hot pink bra. “I made it myself this morning,” said the Havertown woman with a grin. “I needed something girly.”
Clearly, this was no ordinary tea party. And, in fact, it wasn’t. It was a fundraiser for Carmel’s Crew, a group of women, friends of Carmel Bradley of Havertown, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. The group of 20 women each must raise $2,300 to participate in the 3-Day Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October.
Aisling Travers, a 19-year-old education student at West Chester State University, who has been part of the group since it began, planned the tea party—right down to delicate china cups and the “Keep Calm and Fight On” posters. It was held on Sunday, August 19, at the Malvern home of her parents, Seamus and Marie Travers.
Why a tea party? Travers is blunt: “I hate asking people for money. Plus, fundraisers are usually beef-and-beers and bar-oriented, and being the youngest on the team, I thought it would be cute for the kids to be involved. I wanted it to be a Mom-and-Me event, and there’s nothing more girly than a tea party.”
She signed on for the 3-Day because “it was on my bucket list and I’ve known Carmel and most of the girls since I was little,” says Travers. It was all she hoped for and more. “It was awesome,” she says. “I was nervous the first time, first because we’re walking 60 miles and I was hoping I’d survive, but also because I didn’t know everyone that well. But by the end of the three days, we all became unbelievably close.”
All of Carmel’s Crew are friends of Bradley, a 47-year-old mother of three and Donegal native. In May 2009, after a routine mammogram, she learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
“I know all the controversy about mammograms,” says Bradley, referring to a 2009 recommendation from a government task force that women in their 40s not get screened. “But a mammogram found my cancer. It wasn’t even a lump. It was a thickening of the skin. All I keep thinking is that if I didn’t get a mammogram, if I’d waited three years, I wouldn’t be here.”
Bradley went through both chemotherapy and radiation after a lumpectomy. While she was in treatment, she and the two of her seven sisters who live in the US began talking about the Komen 3-Day. “We talked each other into it,” laughs Bradley, who is completing her degree in special education at West Chester State University.
Initially, she and her sisters—Una McDaid and Fionnuala McBrearty—thought they’d do it themselves. “Then a few friends said they’d liked to and it just grew—to 20,” Bradley says.
The experience was fun, exhausting, but also healing. “I had just finished up treatment three or four months before, but I got so much energy from the group,” she says. “We would just stick together and carry each other along.”
She’s not normally very emotional, Bradley admits, but it got to her. “The survivors wear different colored t-shirts and when I saw the number that were there, I got emotional.”
In fact, everyone in Carmel’s Crew had a weepy day, says her sister, Fionnuala. “In Manayunk we were trudging along and the sister of one of our walkers came out with a sign for us and gave us candy. When we went through Havertown, our kids were lining Darby Road, and they had Irish dancers there, and they were clapping. It really lifts you so much. On the final day, there’s a ceremony for the survivors and we all took our shoes off and raised them to honor Carmel.”
Bradley says that’s the reason she can’t do the walk without dark glasses. “I’m laughing and crying the whole way!”
What also kept her going, she says, was her husband, Louie, who is president of the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association, and their children, Fiona, 17, and twins Shane and Conor, 15. “I don’t know what I would have done without their support and help,” she says. “I knew I needed to keep going because of them.”
Friends and parents at the children’s schools helped out. “We had more dinners than we could eat,” Bradley recalls, laughing. “I was just overwhelmed by the goodness of everybody. When I came from Ireland [25 years ago] I didn’t have any family and friends here at the time. These people have become our family.”
See our photos from the Carmel’s Crew tea party.